When Rachel and Jeff Tutor were first married, the young couple, like most newlyweds, dreamed about their lives together and what the future held for them. As they welcomed their two daughters, Sarah and Katie (now ages 21 and 18), the Tutors embraced the joys of parenthood and family life. Little did they know back then just how much their love could expand or how God was planning to use their lives to guide so many others.
Rachel and Jeff both grew up in Roswell, initially meeting in middle school. The two reconnected in college when they shared a few classes at ENMU-Roswell and worked together in the computer lab. They married and quickly learned how to balance their careers while maintaining a household and raising their girls. Jeff began his career in public service in 1996 first as a dispatcher for the state police, then as an officer for the Roswell Police Department. He soon moved over to the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office, where he served the citizens of Chaves County for 20 years. Rachel works as a paralegal in a local law office.
Strong in their faith, the Tutors are very involved in their church community, rearing their daughters to lead godly lives and give back to their community. Their youngest, Katie, was a Rotary student of the month and a volunteer with Assisteens, while Sarah participated in two summer mission trips to Juneau, Alaska as part of a college campus ministry. After retiring from the sheriff’s department in August 2016, Jeff began working for the Roswell Independent School District as the homeless liaison. Even with full time jobs and two grown daughters, the Tutors felt a call to open their home to other children as foster parents, a big need in Chaves County.
Giving his wife credit, Jeff explained, “As far as fostering goes, Rachel is the real heart behind it. Of course, I’ve seen a lot over the years. Part of our job is taking kids into custody that have been abandoned and abused. Rachel has had a heart for fostering for years, and we talked about it a little bit when our girls were young, but we weren’t sure about incorporating foster children into the home with having younger kids in the house, too. When we finally decided to do it, the girls were a little older, and we just felt like the time was right. But I have to give Rachel the credit for the heart behind fostering.”
Rachel started the fostering journey by completing the training for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). She was only able to work one case before her paralegal job began to pick up, and she didn’t have as much time to be involved as she wanted. Her friend and boss, Beth Ryan, has a sister, Mindy Tanner, who had taken in three kids from the Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD), and Rachel was able to observe her positive experience as a foster parent. The Tanners were an immense support and assisted the Tutors with their own transition into foster care. Jeff admitted, “I was scared to death when we started—just the fear of the unknown.”
Rachel pointed out that seeing the Tanners’ kids turn out so great helped them to not fear the process. She also listens to daily radio broadcasts of Focus on the Family; the stories on that program highlight the importance of foster care. One day, it “struck her heart” that this was the time. She went home and told her husband and girls, “I think as a family we can do this.” With everyone on board, they decided to go for it.
Three years ago, as their oldest daughter, Sarah, headed off to college, the Tutors welcomed their first foster child. Since then, they have now welcomed eleven children into their home to shelter and guide. Some stayed a couple of days, some a couple of weeks. According to Rachel, “You always think of them.”
The Tutors told about a shopping trip to Walmart where they ran into one to the first kids who stayed with them. She was with her mom and ran over to the family to give them a hug and say hello. “It makes you feel special to know she remembered her time with us,” recalled Rachel.
When they first ventured into foster care, the Tutors knew that adoption was a possibility for them and even hoped it might work out that way. They were initially thinking they would take in older children, but that all changed when they met nine-month-old Kaylynn, now three. “She stole our hearts,” they all exclaimed. The Tutors began the process to adopt Kaylynn, which usually takes about a year. They had tons of support from CYFD, other foster parents and their CASA workers. All adults in the house are required to complete training with CYFD, but teens and older children are encouraged to participate as well, and Sarah and Katie chose to do so. “CYFD wants to prepare families for everything that goes into it,” Rachel emphasized, “and make sure everybody is heard.”
During this time, the Tutors were informed that Kaylynn’s biological mother was pregnant with another baby. They knew right away that the baby belonged with their family as well. Now two years old, Jacob has been with them since he was born, when he weighed under five pounds. “You can’t tell now by looking at him, but he was just a little bag of bones,” Jeff pointed out while holding the curly haired toddler. “I’ve finally got my boy!”
Even now with four children, Rachel and Jeff are still finding room in their hearts and home for more. In November, they brought in Kaylynn and Jacob’s newborn half-sister and are in the process of adopting her. The new year brought another new resident when they took in sixteen-year-old Matthew (not his real name). Rachel explained that they were just going to keep him for a weekend while he was getting placed into a group home. “That really was all Jeff. After talking with him and the social worker, we just realized that he needed more of a family setting.”
“He will do better in a family setting than a group home,” Jeff agreed. “Plus, we thought if we kept him, he could stay in high school. We want to make sure he has a chance at life and is successful. That’s our goal for him, even if he’s not with us down the road. We still want to make sure he stays in school and graduates. He’s a smart kid, just grew up in a life of gangs and drugs. Once you take them out of that, you see he’s a smart kid.”
“What we’re seeing with Matthew,” Rachel bragged, “is the investment CASA has put forth. Everybody is just really pulling for him to succeed. It’s not lost on him.” The Tutors hope to keep Matthew with them until he turns 18 but will probably not adopt him, acknowledging that there are many benefits provided to kids who age out of the foster system. “But if he wanted us to, we would!” Rachel quickly interjected. Also, Matthew’s father is currently working through the reunification program with CYFD, so Matthew may be reunified with his biological father.
Jeff described foster care as “basically the giving of your time and opening your home.” However, if you are not able to give that kind of commitment, there are other ways to help children in the system such as respite foster care and donations. With emotion, Jeff insisted, “One of the biggest things I’ve learned about doing it is these kids—they’re just normal kids.”
“They just need some stability,” Rachel contended, “someone to care about them and invest in them a little bit.”
Jeff elaborated, adding, “We keep the kids with us 24/7, and we take them with us everywhere we go. I mean, these are our kids. Not just these kids [Kaylynn, Jacob and their half-sister]. When we take someone in our home, what we want to do is just show them a normal life. That’s the whole point…to take them with you on vacations, everything.”
Roswell is fortunate to have families taking care of the children in our community who are in need, but the Tutors just see it as something they were called to do. They have even inspired others to follow in their footsteps. Rachel’s sister is currently pursuing foster care as well, and Rachel credits the positive experience they have had. “These kids have just brightened everybody’s lives in our families.”
Jeff affirmed, “It’s challenging at times, but it’s very rewarding.”
Rachel concluded that it has been a life changing experience and encouraged others to help in any way they can. “We certainly wouldn’t have thought that at this age we’d have these little ones, that we’d be basically starting over, but it’s been so positive just watching how sweet and attentive and supportive our older girls are with these children and how their hearts have been changed as well by having them in our home. If you are feeling like you want to just try it, don’t be afraid of it. I feel like God puts it there for you, and you just need to respond. Once you do, the flood gates open. I can feel that God’s been in our life, more than I probably did my entire time with our first kids. It’s been challenging, but He has always been there to get us to the next stage.”